African Futures – keynote address

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In this country in many African colonies, in the United States of America.  Black people lived haunted by that future of living in a world where they won’t be slaves anymore.

I remember Manu Dibango, famous singer telling me how in the 50ies he never thought Cameroon, his country will be one day independent. We are living some people’s future.

For decades, Cinema has been offering us different futures, cinema has become the medium of our utopias, maybe it is better that way they remain in cinemas. Because all intellectual models of utopias we know since Plato Campanella, Fournia etc. are building a totalitarian society, and communism that was the only applied utopia proved it. Utopia is not meant to be directed towards human beings , utopia should be directed towards technology, therefore a medium such as cinema or the Internet, that is meant to assist human beings in their daily life. It leaves that way some freedom to us to interpret the metaphor it generates and translates it in an intellectual work.Technology more than human beings is the place of utopia.

It is not in Hollywood but in In Washington in a 1915 Supreme Court ruling with the case of Mutual Film Corp. vs the Industrial Commission of Ohio that film was defined to what it is today; asserting that all film were a business, « pure and simple » wining against those who were  trying to fight Hollywood’s vision of the world. They concluded that cinema was and is far more than just a dumb show, a screen toward which we cast our eyes solely for amusement or diversion.

That’s how it came to play until today a role so powerful like other new technologies – in fact, like the Internet – film is an arena in which different groups struggle and contest for the right to shape public opinion and make social policy.

If like Georges Steiner we consider each serious art form as a critical act, a critic of life either it is realist, fantastic, Utopian or satirical, here the artist, the filmmaker defines himself against the world as it is.

Jean-Luc Godard sees the art of cinema as the creation of an image  like in radiology that allow to identify the wrong in the society to better propose a treatment. The society is viewed as body and as anybody it would needed to be treated/

Christian Metz defines fiction as the “semble-reel”. A mirror of the society that on a psychoanalytic point of view should be a pretext for the spectator to pro-ject himself. It is its identification power that makes fiction work. All fiction is a lure.

Tarkovski wonders why humanity has given up that early on immortality.

The cinema we are talking about here needs for  language the  same kind of revolution  Freud imposed to psychology, Marx to economy.

Can cinema make it possible to redefine African future beyond NGOs perspectives?

Can cinema carry our utopias and dystopias and be the design for a  reinvention?

Can African resilience be that future we are all thriving for?

Can Africa overcome death and open humanity to immortality?

Can Africa organize for the whole world  the exit from capitalism?

When I was told for the first time at AIM (African in Motion) in Edinburgh  in 2012 that my film LES SAIGNANTES was the first African Science fiction, I was very surprised.

It’s true the film is set in the future 2025 but I was surprised because I was not trying to make a sci-fi film, I was trying to speculate, to ask the What If question. I was maybe trying to make a cautionnary tale, by saying “if we continue like this, this is what we might end up with.”

The second reason why I was surprised is that I was discovering that we Africans aren’t  projecting ourselves enough in the future? Why is it that the first African science-fiction film is only made in 2005? Can we get something we cannot see? No doubt that I see a connection between tat lack of projection in the continent with the kind of deadend we seem to be facing. And in the meantime, other people do project us in the future they want for us. You always hear that in such and such year, Africa will be this or that. I think this year 2015 was a kind of future in what is called the Millennium Goals. What are those “development” and NGO’s futures narratives projecting for Africa? We could also question hollywood vision of Africa in the future when in District 9, South Africa is given a new bad guy, assuming that the old one has become a good guy or has vanished. How different is it with  the prophecy of  the 1966 film  Africa Adio which narrative is telling us that now the white man is gone, Africa will be in a chaos. I without ignoring the state of the continent, can we see other futures for the continent beyond these apocalyptic perspectives of hunger, drouts, migrations, wars, edpidemias?

My film LE PRESIDENT “How do you know it’s time to go” I made a couple of years ago was a more tangible attempt for cinema to interfere with the real. It was futuristic as it was about imagining a president who has been in power for more than 30 years leaving power. No need to be a visionnary to think a 82 years old president can die or something. The reaction aroud that film with censorship showed how speculating, imagining what is not there asking the what if question could be a problem in our context.

If we can’t imagine things to come on this continent, how can we get that future we cannot see. If you never seen a car in your life, how can you get it?  Maybe that could be a place for cinema there… I always ask young africans to close their eyes and to tell me how they see their town in 20, 50 years…Most of the time they see Paris or New-York…

The question  is what are the futures that are haunting us today?

Let’s just start with the one that is so common, the utopia of having a real state on this continent that functions well.

The Black Nation State utopia

Why do we need a state for, one would ask? We need a state to provide us with security right? We are using Thomas Hobbes definition of security: everything that threatens life. Africans as global citizens before time have always been looking for a place on this planet where they could just live in peace. This place doesn’t exist; it doesn’t matter if it’s in Europe, in America, in Asia or even in Africa.

Africans lives are threatens in different ways all over the globe.  Discrimination, poverty, prisons, exploitation, war, hunger, health, ignorance… All States on this planet do not qualify for Africans to be States. Because what makes a State for a human being? It is its ability to protect his life that makes a State, a State. This is the reason why Africans should go look for their security somewhere else, but not in any States existing now because none can provide that security to them it doesn’t matter if it is in Europe, in America, in Asia or even in Africa. Africans need a Leviathan State. A state where an African can give a mandate to a representative to represent him in the sense his life is not threatens. This African needs also to be able to take back that mandate in case he feels that his life is in danger, that the terms of the mandate have been violated by his representative who has failed in protecting his life. Because this contract should remain personal between the representative and each individual life, this will be an evolution of democracy as know it. Africans would have been forced to create a Utopian democratic State inspired by everything they have endured and they don’t want to endure anymore. One may think that this Utopian State doesn’t exist. But in fact It has been named, sang written so many times so many artists, writers, leaders in  books, songs, art, speeches…and actually were materialized in different mediums which are another reality, competing more and more with the reality we live. The leviathan State exists, it exists virtually. Africans just need to take it to the next step and they would have created a country for themselves.

My grand father woke up one day, he was German, the next day he was French and the day after he was Kamerunian.

It is clear that we did not create the states we have now on the continent. We might not like the fact that Africa is a western invention.

Kamerun is created first by a merchant of Hamburg Woerman who is corrupting some of the chiefs to sign a treaty he will use to convince Bismark to get a German colony in Africa.

One of the utopia we were haunted with was the one to have a Black State as black people for a while did not have a place of their own either because they were colonized or because they were inslaved. Many of the great panafrican leaders, the Marcus Garvey, the Nkrumah, the MalcomX…  dreamed of it. Let’s just read what Malcom X says about it.

 “when you want a nation, that’s called nationalism.  When the white man became involved in a revolution in this country against England, what was it for?  He wanted this land so he could set up another white nation.  That’s white nationalism.  The American  Revolution was white nationalism.  The French Revolution was white nationalism….  All the revolutions that are going on in Asia and Africa today are based on what?  Black nationalism.  A revolutionary is a black nationalist.  He wants a nation…. If you’re afraid of black nationalism, you’re afraid of revolution.  And if you love revolution, you love black nationalism.”

Even if we know that Africans have in the past created collective ensembles,

the Pharaoh Egypt is with no doubt the most important project, Soundiata Keita’s Mali Empire (1240-1255) followed by Kankan Moussa (1307-1332) who conquered the Ghana Empire, Sonni Ali and Askia Mohammed Songhaï Empire with Tombouctou (1500-1538), the Kanem-Bournou Empire with Ali and Idriss III, the Benin Kingdoms, the Zulus… and the lately the Nkrumah United Africa project, way before the European Union.

I want to say that we have besides models of people like Amilcar Cabral who to fight tribalism in Africa thought the struggle against colonialism would be the foundation the DNA for an African Nation State…

Two African States utopias are competing here, either they should be taken as model or not. One is the Mandela’s South Africa State and the other is the Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Among all the many projects of  African States utopia, the Nelson Mandela project in South African seems to have been the most successful one, not because it is the best, but because it is the one that has produced an African country that is prosperous and powerful in a western way despite poverty (like America could be). What was used here by Mandela and his peers was first indigenous legitimacy and second resistance to oppression to take the country away from the colonizers. Some will even argue that, it was a parasite posture because the colonizers had the vision even if Africans worked hard to build the country. By adopting The Colonial Project without its oppression dimension, the Mandelas acknowledged in some ways that it doesn’t matter how noble and necessary is resistance, resistance is not project.  The utopia of creating a collective ensemble called State, Nation or even Union (in the case of an African Union) was not theirs.

What Mugabe’s Zimbabwe have created as a utopia is the idea of the African State without white people. You see all over the continent a lot of people who think Mugabe is the man because has quicked out white farmers and it doesn’t matter how he did it and what happened after with those farms. Just to aknowlege that, the utopia of an Africa without white is an option.

The revolution utopia has been behind a lot of African liberation mouvements but once these countries  acquired their independence came de desillusion of the post-revoutionnary era; the birth of dystopia like I guess in  South Africa today we feel that disillusion… Where is that Dream we fought for? Students demonstrations are singing Biko and not Mandela.

About the revolution going wrong.  The concrete problem is how and why people become revolutionary? What other choices South Africans had? What else can the Palestinians do? Is it because there will still be problems after that people shouldn’t stand against oppression, against tyranny?

The African Solution

Another utopia I want to mention here is The Thabo Mbeki “African Solution” utopia

Here in Africa, we are haunted by the idea that we have to do things ourselves. We are dreaming about this day where what ever we consume, think or use will be  generated by the “African Solution” Mbeki had in mind when he said  “as Africans we have to deal with this uniquely African catastrophe” and that simply accepting Western conventional wisdom on AIDS would be “absurd and illogical.”

Beyond the rhetoric, where are these African laboratories and Think Thank  turning that utopia into reality.

There is also the health utopia which translates into diseases and death in Africa that should force us to address the theme of immortality we find in many African mythology such as The Mvett you find in Beti/Fang culture in Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.

 In the Mvett mythology, the people of Okü are fighting against the people of Engong. And why the people of Okü fighting? Because they are seeking the secret of immortality held by the people of Engong (the country of immortality). 

In our continent traditional healers support 80% of the medical burden, from  head of states to the modest citizen, all use traditional therapy a sector that survives with no grants, no training, no hospitals… they only left with the colonial project that was asking them to give what ever they know to the “white hospital” . Why aren’t we creating these labs seeking Mbeki’s African solution in order to seek the secret of immortality?

The development utopia

As we all seem to be haunted by the future the capitalist economy is projecting us into? The future of being a consumer, the future of buying this new car, the future making more money, which in fact the future of having more potential, but the potential to do what?

We are haunted by the future of capitalism promises which is in fact the future of getting out of poverty…  out of underdevelopment, the future of becoming developped, emergent etc.

Are we more haunted by the wealth we don’t have  than with poverty? Is it because poverty is death that we are haunted by life after death? In Africa we know dead are not dead; they are not even called the deads, they have names of other living beings, living in a specific world with its own rules and references. Is that world of the deads the future for us? Is it the future promised to us religions such as Christianity, Boudhism and Islam; the future of life after death that is becoming that future we are haunted by?

The generalized incapacity: The dystopia.

When the French philosopher Bernard Steiner says that we live in a state of generalized incapacity it seems like he is talking about the African States. But he is actually describing  liberalism that systematically destroys capacities and make us live this reign of the society of incapacity, governed by incapable that are generalizing the laisser-aller, the laissez-faire and which destroys all knowledge and in particular, the savoir-vivre.  he says  no institution no state can escape the injunctions of the transnational entities that are promoting consumerism and financial capital, destroying at first anything cultural and educational, because the mission of culture and education is to allow the mind reason as a condition of liberty?

African States are with no doubts confronted with political incapacity, economic incapacity, technological incapacity and even language incapacity. In addition of industrial incapacities (all countries aiming to become emergent in 2030-2050…) , there are democratic incapacities with leaders clinging to powers for 30, 40 years and their children sometimes taking over… are few other incapacities I could observe lately in my country Cameroon: more and more, people talk a lot now, but they talk to say nothing. It’s a form of “self-expression incapacity”.

I also saw that because people need a lot of money they don’t have to sustain their consuming trends, public servants make the government buy sports cars  so that they can ride in them. This is a “consumerism incapacity”.

Because survival has become a way of life, people don’t dream anymore, here we have a “dream incapacity”.

Also, no one cares anymore about the truth. For all the crimes no investigation , no conclusion. No truth, no knowledge. That’s Truth incapacity.

The language used by people is it really telling what’s we are living?. There we have language incapacity.

Immigration utopia/dystopia

So many incapacities have produced a new utopia, the utopia of another space being the space of capacities. The White man’s country. Immigration is the new utopia. No where, western countries who were the first to expand their frontiers up to us didn’t expect not even a century later the boomerang effect of their endeavor. Africans are moving to Europe, America, Asia and South Africa primarly to  operate under a minimum of capacity. In that sense, the Mandela’s State where the Africans only joined the white man utopia with its oppression dimension taken out has worked. The Mandela’ State offers capacities, infrastructure what many African States are dreaming of. Here is where the Mandela’ States differs from the Mugabe’ State who is about kicking the white man out. The question is why not bring them back turning around the dystopia into a new utopia?

This situation has produced among our african leaders what I call  the Utopia Duplicity.

When an African leader in charge of organizing for example a national health system  is making sure himself and his family benefits from a health system put in place by other leaders like them in western countries, while telling his own people 30-50-60 years after independence that we have to do it by ourselves, it just takes time…Another form of The African Solution … and we see the managers of that same health system building villas, buying luxury cars without being able to deliver the minimum, there  is duplicity.

Here the behavior doesn’t match the rhetoric. They are selling one nationalist dream to their people in order to stay in power and they are make sure themselves live another dream. The question is how can you do for your own people worst than the colonizers?

 The Obama Post-racial utopia/dystopia

Obama winning the 2008 American elections made us think that race won’t matter anymore in the years to come. We thought black people will be living in the future in a world without racism. Obama used his personal story and the power of identification behind it when he said for example that: My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack. His father; my grandfather; was a cook, a domestic servant to the British. But my grandfather had larger dreams for his son. Through hard work and perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in a magical place, America, that shone as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come before. While studying here, my father met my mother. She was born in a town on the other side of the world, in Kansas. Her father worked on oil rigs and farms through most of the Depression.

Obama has used his African origins to project Africans in a world that will be what you make of it. You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people. You can serve in your communities, and harness your energy and education to create new wealth and build new connections to the world. You can conquer disease, and end conflicts, and make change from the bottom up. You can do that. Yes you can — because in this moment, history is on the move”. As he said.

If we are sure of one thing about Obama, it’s that he will be remembered as the first black president in the history of the United States of America. If he will be remembered as the president who did something else is still to be proven, which doesn’t mean he won’t be remembered for something else. But for the time being, what we are sure of is that Obama is the first black US president.

Being the first black president makes you a symbol. In a addition of being the first black, Obama’s origins make him the first many things: the first African, the first mixed race, the first immigrant, the first Muslim… – He doesn’t have to claim those identities or to any of these but his origins make people associating him with those identities. – In addition to this, the global new media  made Obama campaign a global campaign with email solicitations to non-Americans for donations. A lot of people contributed to get the first black US president elected in a country where black were slaves? Why would they have done it if  it was not all symbolic?

Obama is carrying  all these symbols either he wants it or not. Why would Obama be given a Nobel Peace prize just after he was elected, before he had even done anything, if he was not a symbol?

When you are a symbol it isn’t about you anymore, it’s about the projections of people and the reality has nothing to do with it. People see in you something that comes deeply within themselves. Most of the time they feel hope. A symbol has a therapeutic function for a society and can’t deny it to people. They need  it and they can’t do without it.

In fact Obama has used it. He knew he could appeal to that and make people vibrate at that symbolic level. In his speech of the Democrats convention of 2004, he told people that America is great because he, Barack Obama, son of a Kenyan father  and a Kansas mother could be standing in front of that crowd making that speech. Not only he used his uniqueness and difference but he also associated it with another symbol, America. And symbols carry utopia.

After achieving the objective of becoming president, the rhetoric started changing from the symbolic rhetoric to the pragmatic rhetoric. People were now told Obama is not a world president, he is an American president. Obama is not a black president, he is an American president etc. Like if the symbols should remain at a discourse level for propaganda sake. While I believe that symbolism should be seen as utopia. There is a symbolic language one can master and use on a daily basis and not just in speeches but in actions.  The power of the symbolic language, the language of behavior has more potential in implementing utopia. Because that symbolic language works at the individual level using emotions as a vehicle, it empowers people and the more important, gives meaning to what we do.

If Obama’s failure has been in mastering the symbolic language, how do one becomes a symbolic president? How can Obama become a Biggy Muldon depicted by Loyd Wagner’s Yankee City? How could Obama feed collective representations while at the white house? How could the white house being run by signs loaded with meanings?

Among the utopias I found specially fascinating there is this one…

The African African-American DNA Reconnection utopia

When the famous American actor Blair Underwood’s genealogical road trip takes him from Lynchburg, Va., to the African nation of Cameroon; and through a DNA match, Underwood met his 10th cousin, Eric Sonjowoh, a college student in Cameroon living in the village of Babungo with his father, Frank, a retired army colonel.  What is that encounter all about? What is the meaning of meeting with Eric and be given the royal treatment with tribal dances and a celebration?

By discovering that “Ten generations ago we shared the same relatives,” what is that narrative leads Underwood and all of us ? And the feeling of not leaving it just there like when “Eric who goes to college in the capital of Cameroon gives his DNA to be stored in a database.” or when Underwood makes another trip to Cameroon. It is that need to pursue conversation, the dialog generated by that encounter that made Underwood stay  in touch by e-mail. “We’re having conversations to have him come over.”

This will happen to many other African Americans, not that they will all find their 10th cousin but they will all look for a way to reconnect…..

Blair Underwood and his cousin are engaged in what I call the Next Narrative, they will have like all other African and African Americans  to imagine the re-birth of African people as a whole. People hurt by a long walk / exile (history) and suffering/ death (Slavery and colonialism) at the time when they are about to take the long inside heroic journey that leads to a climactic discovery:  immortality. The Next Narrative engaged here tells the story of  immortality.

When a Cameroonian real estate developer in the small coastal city of Kribi  offers to the organizers of the trip The Arkjammers to give  a piece of “motherland” to African American whose DNA happened to be Cameroonian, nobody including himself understands his  gesture as he claims this has no hidden business agenda. But how is it possible? Is it the right thing to do? When Curtis Harold, 65 an African American land receiver decides now after two trips  to move down there in Cameroon, Curtis and the real estate developer, they are both taking the initiation walk. The challenge ahead is the ability of each of them to transform themselves. Utopia becoming real.

Because DNA findings has a powerful transformative energy in the person finding about his African ancestors, it would be a waste not to capitalize on it to design a new relation between Africans and African Americans.

When an African American comes to you African all excited, holding in his hands the results of his DNA tests that says that he is Tikar from Cameroon, what do you do? You reaction should be the same reaction of you seeing a brother you have been separated to for a very long time because of some uncontrollable oppression forces. Do you tell him, time has gone by, we are now very different people, there is nothing we can do. Accepting the victory of the oppressor on you and your brother for ever? Or do you say, it doesn’t matter how long we have been separated and how different we are now, I can’t accept the victory of the oppressor (slavery) as the end of the story… between me and my brother.

If the slave narratives turn out to be the most important African American literature genre, it is not a coincidence. Slave narratives were about change; they were a  political tool. Authors were writing about their own feelings, hardships and challenges in freedom. This what the DNA Narratives called here The Next Narratives are all about. Like Slave narratives Amata is at the same time contingency and immanency.

If one part of the Amata can be perceived as negativity, the struggle against the other, which is about fighting the outside hostility and engaging in an inexorable escape to be out of reach of this heteronomic  aggression (that stops autonomy), like the Slave trade was. The slavery and colonial system  were perverse in that sense they were about stopping Africans autonomy.

If Amata is at the same time a struggle against the “other” and a struggle against one self , re-appropriation and an self-invention act whose objective is to excel, the different cases where Africans reinvent themselves by getting in contact with death and adversity are to be recalled here. Amata goes beyond the myth, he is powerful desire of self-transformation and of the world transformation. It is history invention.

Slavery and Reconnection to Africa are both to be Amata.

Our  origins are not behind us: our origins are ahead of us, it’s up to us to build our new origins.

Conclusion

At what moment people decide then to speak a new language? Isn’t it when their world is not composed of the same things as language? Isn’t it when their language is not talking to them anymore, or is telling them stories, telling them lies?

We need as Africans  to reinvent the language.We need to get out of that prison of language, reject the rich furnished house in the presence of old occupants in the mirrors.We need with language, the same revolution Freud imposed to psychology, Marx to economy.

If we use the African and African Reconnection utopia as a model where we don’t look at who sold who but we look at it with the principle of AMATA that sees the whole, that doesn’t separate the journey with the end, but engaged here by African and African Americans is a dynamic movement, an intern transformation, to become. An energy in which one can draw creativity and power. “Everything that were, everything that is, everything that will be. Oneself momentum towards one own invention and interior movement and dialectical questioning”.

With all our devices soon to be connected to the Internet in what they call The Internet of Everything, imagine you putting a steak in a microwave oven and seeing on the microwave screen a calf’s head that says “hello”. Once that plate is in front of you, you will have great difficulty in finding appetite because the narrative will make you consider all scenarios. What if in your african culture you are not allowed to eat a head?  What is now the difference between the veal’s head and Chicken Run on our plate? In both cases we will be eating animals that talk like us. But we should not ignore here that metaphoric cannibalism comes from African traditions where men staged animals in their mythologies. Our hesitation in front of such a plate takes all its meaning today because chicken now could have dioxin, and the cow could be mad. What is more real than the virtual nature of a ritual, that of a meal. What is more disgusting than the narrative of what we eat? In future we will see the consequences of the stories we tell each other way beyond our plate because it was to get rid of cannibalism in reality that our ancestors have made it a sham.

It is because we have forgotten that, to have lift between reality and fiction, the virtual and the real, the barriers that should have never been that today we face problems against which all our myths wanted to protect us.

If we consider a future cinema to come from the utopias we are haunted with such as  that DNA narratives as a prose, and because any prose results from its rhetoric, we have to study its grammar, a grammar based on the same organization as the science of nature or esoteric disciplines. The only difference will be that there will be one nature and many languages. In esoterism, the proprieties of words, syllables and letters are covered with another discourse that remains for the initiated (secret), while in grammar, it is every day’s words and the sentences that are enunciating themselves their proprieties. The language lies midway between the visible figures and the secret conventions of esoteric discourse. This will be a nature which would have lost its first transparency; this will be a secret that carries in itself decodes marks of what it will mean.

If one accepts that narratives have a social function, what is the part of the Good, the Truth, the Just and the Beautiful in the narratives that we eat, hear,  live,  become?

How do we negotiate our freedom in a world where we feel increasingly infected by wrong narratives?

How do we to turn our daily life to an opposite those manipulative narrative?

How do we decode the hidden secrets in our DNAs?    .

How do we make a cinema that removes borders between reality and imagination?How do we live an utopia in this new space where stories  are becoming reality?

How do we live  our great invented story ? How do we practice a new art   ―  l’art de vivre. And like all great art, it will command us to change our lives.

Because the very nature of cinema is about being freed from time and space, because cinema shows us the here and the now, the somewhere else and the yesterday, it is also able to show us the here and the tomorrow. Because it is capable of deconstruction and able to contain in a single story the whole DNA of Africa  which future is repeating the sins of the past. African cinema, our cinema alone is able to organize that necessary reset ; reinvention and leads us on another way of being. In other words, can Africa utopia help organize the exit of capitalism?

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